June 7, 2009

Pratenonline.nl - free and anonymous access for youth to highly trained solution-focused professionals

One of the most interesting and innovative initiatives concerning the solution-focused approach I know is a Dutch project called pratenonline (translated: talking online).

How did it start? Roughly six years ago, Pien Oijevaar (photo) had two insights. The first was that young people with problems had one favorite way of looking for solutions: searching the internet. The second was that solution-focused therapy is a highly effective, fast and respectful therapy approach. She created the website pratenonline and recruited several solution-focused therapists. Her hunches turned out to be right. Without any marketing children were able to find and use the website and it became a success. Pratenonline.nl is now part of Jeugdriagg NHZ and Pien is still the project manager.
What exactly is pratenonline? Through pratenonline.nl young people (age 12-23) with problems can anonymously chat with a solution-focused therapist. The great thing about this is that the threshold for children to seek help when troubled is substantially lowered.
Children who would otherwise never dare to seek help now can get free access to highly trained solution-focused professionals. The project is organized cleverly. At the end of each training session, the client is asked to express his satisfaction with the use of the so-called Session Rating Scale (click on the picture to see an enlargement). Ratings go into a database. Also, of each chat transcript a copy is saved. Therapists are selected critically on their solution-focused skills. They are also trained frequently and they have frequent group intervision. For the therapists, this approach is attractive too because they can work form their homes and there is a lot of flexibility in the planning of the work. It is no wonder that the first 10 therapists who started 5 years ago still work there. Recently, systematic effectiveness research has been started up.
When thinking about pratenonline.nl two thoughts come up. The first thought is that this is a great initiative and it reminds me of Clayton Christensen's concept of disruptive innovation (here is an introduction to that concept). Pratenonline.nl seems like the kind of child centric therapy which could become the dominant approach in the future (read, as an analogy, this post about student centric education). The second thought that comes is up is that it would be very interesting to do micro analysis research on the chat transcripts. Think for instance of the approach James Pennebaker takes with his research. He has been doing studies in which he has tried to learn about mental health by counting the use of certain categories of words by people. This type of automated text analysis could help generate more detailed knowledge about which interventions work best in therapy.


  1. exciting!
    I wonder if we could export this, say in Italy...

    I also like your idea of performing a text analysis à la Pennebaker. I think it is very useful.
    For my additional coaching certification I am doing a transcript of 2 coaching sessions, and I am realizing that the language, the words clients use at the end of the sessions are very different from those used at the beginning!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Paolo, I would love to see this kind of project in other countries too. Maybe there are some similar projects already in other countries. i'd love to hear if there are.

    Yes, I think this kind of micro analysis can provide much more in depth information on what works.


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